Environment & Science

Rare sperm whales seen off local waters

A sperm whale's flukes rises above the water off the coast of Orange County on October 6, 2014.
A sperm whale's flukes rises above the water off the coast of Orange County on October 6, 2014.
Lasanthi Benedict
A sperm whale's flukes rises above the water off the coast of Orange County on October 6, 2014.
A trio of sperm whales spout in the waters off of Newport Beach in Orange County.
Lasanthi Benedict
A sperm whale's flukes rises above the water off the coast of Orange County on October 6, 2014.
A group of sperm whales swim off the coast of Orange County, a location where they are rarely seen.
Captain Dave's Dolphin & Whale Safari
A sperm whale's flukes rises above the water off the coast of Orange County on October 6, 2014.
A sperm whale seen from underwater off the coast of Orange County.
Captain Dave's Dolphin & Whale Safari


Listen to story

01:10
Download this story 1.0MB

Whale enthusiasts were thrilled on Monday by the appearance of more than 50 sperm whales off the Orange County coast.

The sighting was a rarity because of the high numbers, the pod’s proximity to shore and the inclusion of mothers with their calves.

“This is a dream come true. I never in my wildest dreams ever thought I would see this many sperm whales in my life,” said Gisele Anderson, vice president of Captain Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari.

Speaking on a mobile phone aboard one of her company’s boats, Anderson pointed out whale spouts erupting from the giant predators that were feeding around their boats.

“There goes a mother and a calf, both showing their flukes up in the air, not even 40 feet from the boat,” she said.

The tour group posted video of its whale encounter to Youtube.

Sperm whale video

It’s the krill

Sperm whales are among the deepest-diving mammals, and their diets are believed to consist mainly of giant squids.

Kera Mathes, a whale biologist with the Aquarium of the Pacific, said that the sperm whales were likely drawn to the area as a result of large quantities of krill that appeared in Southern California waters two days ago.

“We have had lots of smaller squid feeding on krill, so I’m a little excited that hopefully that’s brought some of the larger squid, and that’s why we’re seeing the sperm whales,” Mathes said.

Mathes said it’s unclear why the krill appeared in the area. She said it could have been caused by warmer water temperatures or shifting ocean currents.

“We don’t totally know yet. We may not know. This could be something that we just see more of over time, or maybe it’s just an anomaly,” Mathes said.

This year, warmer than usual sea surface temperatures off the West Coast have been credited with bringing in many strange marine sightings to Southern California, including blue whales, false killer whales and yellowfin tuna.

Warmer water temperatures are often associated with an El Niño, but Mathes said it’s too early to attribute the change to the climate phenomenon, as government scientists have not declared one yet.

Mathes said that it’s not unheard of for solitary sperm whales to appear in the area, especially eight-to-nine miles offshore, where deep trenches lie in the ocean floor. She said one male whale named “Mango” has made several appearances recently.

However, she said that it’s much less common to see mothers with their calves in this area.

More than a dozen mothers and calves are estimated to be among the sperm whales seen off the coasts of Orange County.

For Anderson — who said she recently booked a trip to New Zealand to see sperm whales — seeing the mothers with their calves were the experience of a lifetime.

“I’ve read about them, I have seen video of them, but I never dreamed in a million years that I would see them myself here off the coast of Orange County. We’re not even three miles off the coast,” Anderson said.

This story has been updated.